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Blame culture: you wouldn’t blame your clients, why do you blame your staff?

“What is the single most important thing for a company? Is it the building? Is it the stock? Is it the turnover? It’s the people, investment in people.” – David Brent

Mr Brent says some weird things in the 2 seasons of The Office (the better UK version), but this is arguably his most inspiring quote throughout the entire 13 episodes.

We’re much better with flashy staff benefits and ‘bean bag culture’ in the UK these days, but when you get below all of that, what most employees want are 3 things:

  1. A challenging, rewarding job;

  2. Hygiene factors such as enough holidays, the right tools and to be paid on time; and

  3. An understanding boss who backs and trusts them.

This third one is where we can do a lot better in the financial planning profession.

What is blame culture?

Blame culture is a type of micro-management in which, whenever a mistake is made, there is a beeline towards 1 question: “Whose fault was that?”

We’re obsessed with blame culture in the UK and this seems to be taught from the very start of our lives and throughout school.

The effect of blame culture can be catastrophic in the morale of a business. Here are some ways that it can affect employees:

  1. Reflection of blame and responsibility – “I only did that because you did this”

  2. Reluctance to speak out – “I didn’t want to tell you because I thought you would react this way”

  3. Reluctance to take risks – “I didn’t do that because I was scared I would get it wrong”

  4. Fear of criticism

  5. A toxic atmosphere

We’re supposed to stay professional at work and not let this kind of stuff get in the way of our working relationships, but that can be extremely tough and takes years of experience to master.

How does this develop in financial planning workplaces?

Due to the pressure, responsibility and stress that financial planners have to deal with when dealing with their clients, it is awfully easy to let these types of habits creep in. But, when you look deeper into this, it is very rarely ever just one person’s fault.

It could be due to a bad process, a lack of communication or even the client’s fault for not getting back to us.

How many times have you or one of your colleagues had an awkward moment where a mistake has been made and the blame rests solely on you? What was your reaction? Was it to speak out straight away and accept responsibility to put it right?

Or, did your stomach drop and you had to start thinking of ways to hide it or sneak it under the carpet?

If your course of action was the latter, this may be a problem.

Why do we do this?

Good companies treat their staff like customers. They market to them in a way that makes them engaged just like they would to customers. The result is that the employees effectively become ‘ambassadors’ rather than ‘staff’ and have a vested interest in taking the organisation forward.

The question I’m asking here is, if we want to market successfully to our staff, why do we treat them like this?

How can we put it right?

Over the next few weeks I will look at how we address blame culture through better communication and how the language we use can begin to adjust the culture throughout a business. I will also take a look at how working as a team is also important.

The best leaders are ones that develop and work within teams rather than groups. One of the key standards of an effective team is shared responsibility. This makes it much less likely that just one person will be blamed for a mistake.

But for now, instead of a reactive attitude where we ask “why” someone did something, get them to explain the process of “how” they did it. This takes emotion out of the situation and pushes them to see the mistake and leaves them more inclined be proactive and put it right.

Dan Graham – NextGen Planners, Postcard Planning and docVinci

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